Lacing Up: The Trade Winds Are Blowing From Columbus
In remembrance of the late Ashley Gallant, originator of “Lacing Up,” Matt Paul, Joshua Neal, and, at times, guest writers will hold a week-long email discussion, which will be published on FF Monday mornings. If you have any topics you would like to see us discuss, or if you would like to be a guest in our series, please let us know through the comments section below or on our Contact page, linked at the top of FF.
*Matt Paul:*Rob Rossi of the Tribune-Review blogged Tuesday morning that the Columbus Blue Jackets were well-represented at the Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Tampa Bay Lightning game Monday evening, with new general manager Jarmo Kekalainen, his assistant Chris MacFarland, and senior adviser Craig Patrick all on hand.
Since the East and West won’t collide during the regular season, and since Columbus won’t be making the playoffs, we can assume this wasn’t a case of advanced scouting, but rather a chance for Columbus officials to get a first-hand look at potential trade targets. Rossi suggests they were watching the Penguins, with their chip being high-priced, underachieving defenseman Jack Johnson (who happens to be a friend of Sidney Crosby).
Josh, do you see Johnson as a fit in Pittsburgh, or is he a product of potential meets hype?
Josh: I think there is always a place for good players on a good team. Jack Johnson is a good hockey player and one of the best American defensemen in the league. He’s also a young guy that brings a nice two-dimensional game to the ice if he is in the right environment. Columbus is not a good environment, not a winning environment, and an environment that is highly likely to be changing very soon with Kekalainen taking over the reins from Scott Howson, who brought Johnson to town in the first place.
It’s not that I see Johnson as a “bad fit” in Pittsburgh so much as I can’t envision a scenario where they would trade him. He’s on a deal that’s actually relatively cheap by defensemen’s standards – roughly $4.4 million through 2018. Yeah, that’s a lot of money, but wait until you see Kris Letang’s next contract, wherever it may be. Columbus has some bad contracts on the books – James Wisniewski jumps to mind – but even despite his struggles, Jack Johnson is a high level talent and one that Columbus probably can’t afford to lose.
So I won’t say I wouldn’t like to see Johnson in a Penguins uniform if there’s a way to do it that makes sense. But with the Penguins internal depth at the defensive position, and getting solid depth minutes even now from entry-level and first-term contract guys, I just don’t see us dealing a defensive prospect for Johnson in a “right now” kind of deal for the Penguins. Once again, wouldn’t mind seeing it happen, but don’t see a way that it could work without the deal being heavily lopsided in price or in return.
But there are plenty of guys out there who I don’t want any part of that are rumored to be on the market. Matt, anyone in that same boat for you?
Matt: Josh, I’ll start by countering your opinion that Johnson wouldn’t be a bad fit in Pittsburgh by saying that he would, and for several reasons. One, Columbus likely would want a quality prospect in return for a player who, as I mentioned above, has shown enough to lead me to believe he is two parts potential, one part hype, one part proven (or something like that). At his price, which admittedly isn’t bad for an above average defenseman, I want nothing to do with him — because I view him as nothing more than average.
Since we’ve gotten this far without straying from Columbus, let’s just keep the train on the tracks to discuss other Blue Jackets who aren’t good fits. For me, I think we look no further than James Wisniewski to see exactly what isn’t needed: an overpaid, oft-injured, under-performing defenseman. The temptation for some might be there, as he plays a physical game and also can produce some offense, but the cons heavily outweigh the pros, making this a “guilty pleasure” at best.
Likewise, Vinny Prospal would fall into the “guilty pleasure” category as a player who might appear attractive from the outside, but who probably just isn’t worth it. He’s a guy whose had success in the past with big name players, such as Vinny Lecavalier, and is Columbus’ leading scorer, making him an intriguing candidate for a spot with Evgeni Malkin or Sidney Crosby. But let’s leave it at that. He’s got just 12 points on the season and is skating for fewer minutes than Derek Dorsett. That says a lot.
Josh: I’ve got to agree with those two options. The Penguins have put together a pretty nice team and are finding more success than issue with the regular season. My main concerns are moving forward in the playoffs, as we’ve grown accustomed to a highly offensive-minded team who can’t bring the playoff style defense necessary to advance in the Stanley Cup Playoff format. Those are the kind of issues that we need to address.
Rather than bringing guys like that to town, I do think that if the Pens are in any kind of negotiations with the Jackets, the focuses should be on the defensive end, or on defensive-minded two-way forwards. A move that would be unlikely, but hugely popular among Penguins fans would be bringing RJ Umberger back to town. I say “back to town” because he’s a Plum, PA product. I don’t see the Jackets parting with Umberger for anything affordable, and he does have a no-trade clause.
Nikita Nkitin might provide nice defensive insurance if a Penguin were to take an injury, but Mark Eaton’s signing probably rules out that possibility. A guy like Artem Anisimov is intriguing – he’s on a bargain deal through this year ($1.9 mil) which ends with restricted free agency. He’s the perfect candidate to fill Malkin and Neal’s wing temporarily should Beau Bennett disappoint or not show the mettle to be a playoffs guy just yet. And if it works out, the RFA status would make his tenure a stronger possibility than a standard rental.